A Truly Unexpected Journey: A Review of The Hobbit, Part 1

Disclaimer: The following post contains spoilers from Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit. If you have not seen the movie and do not want to know what happens, please do not read further. Otherwise, I would enjoy a good debate on the following topic.

Like any Tolkien-crazed fanatic, I’ve been following the release of The Hobbit closely. From seeing pictures of canon and noncanon characters to rereading the book in preparation of watching the film, I’ve tried to keep up with the near-daily updates of the movie trilogy’s journey. Given the franchise success of The Lord of the Rings in the early 2000s, it can be expected than expectations ran high for the December 14th release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Was it worth the hype? Yes and no. Like all book adaptations, there was some good and some bad. But nothing ugly.

Overall reception of the movie has been ambiguous. Rotten Tomatoes has given The Hobbit  a percentage rating of 65%. The audience rating was significantly higher at 81%. From the website:

“Peter Jackson’s return to Middle-earth is an earnest, visually resplendent trip, but the film’s deliberate pace robs the material of some of its majesty.”

I tend to agree. I’ll delve into specifics later, but I’ll clarify my thoughts by saying the following: I tend to not judge movies by the books they portray. That usually only leads to disappointment. I try to hold to the same here, but I will admit, it is hard. Especially since I loved the original Lord of the Rings trilogy so much, I originally found myself cringing at the thought of additional material being added. So, to begin, here are some common questions/complaints and my thoughts on them.

1. The Dol Guldur Plot Line

I will preface this by saying I love and am well-versed in Tolkien lore. I’ve read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The HobbitThe Silmarillion, and other Tolkien works and am even guilty of participating in text-based roleplaying once in a blue moon. In the book, Tolkien made references to the Necromancer (Sauron before he regained strength in Mordor) as making his base in Dol Guldur, an abandoned fortress in the southern part of Mirkwood. At the time The Hobbit takes place, Sauron as the Necromancer is gaining strength and began planning an assault. True to canon, Gandalf left Thorin’s company in order to attend the White Council (a meeting between the high-and-mighties of Middle Earth). It is this same council we see in the movie.

As I mentioned above, I was leery on the addition because I was paying to see The Hobbit, not The Hobbit and the Rise of Dol Guldur. The book is light-hearted and humorous, written as a child’s tale…why bring in a much darker side story with little mention in the book itself? I shall address this train of thought below…

I will say, though, that the scene between Galadriel and Gandalf was arguably one of the most beautiful and poignant.

Image courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes
Image courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes
Image courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes
Image courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Cate Blanchett and Sir Ian McKellen perfectly reprised their respective roles as Galadriel and Gandalf. The tender moment shared between their characters surely has fueled fan fiction stories dedicated solely to this. On the other hand, it was one of those moments which caused the audience to hold their breath and appreciate the hypnotic beauty of Rivendell.

The addition of the Dol Guldur storyline pulls from Tolkien’s appendices, notes, and manuscripts and is one reasons that Jackson extended the original two films into three. How this ties into the rest of the trilogy remains to be seen. Personally, after seeing the movie twice (once in 3D and once in 2D), I have warmed to the idea of the plot, even if it means spending more time in Middle Earth (a bad thing?). This thought leads into my next point…

2. Do We Really Need a Trilogy?

When Peter Jackson announced that The Hobbit would be a trilogy, people raised a few eyebrows, and quite rightly so. The Hobbit is a relatively short book when compared to its sequel The Lord of the Rings. Did Jackson really need to alter the plot, and why would he want to in the first place?

Many people seem to believe that Jackson added a third movie to build on the already anticipated success of the franchise. Indeed, how many movies have we seen over the past few years which split themselves into at least two movies (i.e. Harry Potter and *shudder* Twilight)? But money was not just the reason, according to Jackson; it was the wealth of material and the fact The Hobbit had little background information for the potential uninformed reader.

In discussion about whether or not to film a third movie, Jackson responded that “we have an incredible source material with the appendices because ‘The Hobbit’ is obviously a novel but we also have the rights to use this 125 pages of additional notes where Tolkien expanded the world of ‘The Hobbit’…” In addition, Jackson admitted that he “just like[s] to tell stories”.

In fleshing out the back story, Jackson gives those of us who either have not read the book or understand Tolkien’s other allusions a reason things happen (i.e. why the Necromancer is a danger). Furthermore, it builds an overall much solider outline. There are those of you who may or will disagree with me on this, but I would rather have too much knowledge than too little canon material. Although Jackson makes some embellishments including the Pale Orc (Azog)/Thorin confrontation, much of what the movie portrays is canon.

On the other hand, I wish Jackson had lessened the extent of what he included in the movie. I am not saying that I dislike sitting through three hours of hobbit awesomeness because that is not the case. I rather think that there was too much darkness towards the middle of the movie rather than lightheartedness. Of course, others would argue that people may not take the movie seriously if there were all happy dwarves and merry singing.

Overall, I would much prefer spending nine hours in Middle Earth in three movies so long as the plotlines remain consistent over being left with lingering questions about the source material. (And don’t say, “you can always read the book”…that is besides the point and why I don’t like comparing books to movies…each medium has a different “visual” purpose…) I agree with why Jackson decided to make three movies, especially if the material being included is canon and not just useless fluff.

3. To 3D or Not to 3D…That is the Question!

I’ll keep this brief…DON’T see The Hobbit in 3D. I got the same chills and thrills from seeing it in 2D over 3D. There was really no point where I thought, “Holy wowzers, this movie is AWESOME in 3D.” If you had such an encounter where I didn’t, please comment. I am curious to see what you think!

I will be posting the remainder of my review tomorrow. Stay tuned!


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